Two of Them

Two of Them Adelaide Fringe 20241/2

Adelaide Fringe. Shifting Lives Theatre. Lecture Gallery at MOD, University of South Australia. 24 Feb 2024


Russell Fewster’s play, Two of Them, is inspired by the artwork of renowned Adelaide artist and art teacher Christopher Orchard, and in particular the bald-headed, dark-suited male figures who have populated his virtuosic drawings for many years. Orchard’s figures represent the everyman in his search for meaning in an absurd world, and Fewster has recreated Orchard’s art as a story depicting this search.


Subtitled ‘An Existential Journey’, the play implicitly refers to the existentialist philosophies of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Sartre et al, and to the absurdism of novelist Albert Camus.


The play opens in the foyer, where the assembled audience has been asked to wait to be ushered in. Two versions of the bald man — Abe (played by Nick Bennett) and Balt (Dominique Sweeney) — appear and measure the space with a long tape-measure, as if assaying the audience as a volume.


On entering the auditorium — the MOD lecture gallery — we see a woman holding a plumb bob, a device used in building construction and also featuring in Orchard’s 2014 drawing The Diviners, which depicts two bald men carefully studying a plumb bob. The use of the bob extends the concept of measurement or calibration of the world, perhaps reflecting the mechanical way in which we apprehend the world.


The play takes the form of an ongoing dialogue between Abe and Balt. Their personalities at times diverge and converge as if they represent the internal dialogue of one individual. Abe seems extroverted while Balt seems more of an introvert — two sides of one person, or of all people. Naturally, these characters recall Vladimir and Estragon, but rather than waiting for someone (Godot), they are reconsidering their lives. Abe is concerned with the world of work and his future employment, while Balt wants closer connection with the environment.


But writer-director Russell Fewster has added a third character, Fate (Sophie Hollingsworth), who acts sometimes as a ringmaster, a props manager, or a participant in the action — an antagonist. For example, she is a police interrogator when Balt is arrested at a protest against environmental destruction. In moving props on and off stage, she is signalling the intervention of fate and represents the external realities of life that we all unavoidably encounter.


Hollingsworth’s character may be seen as representing the three fates in Greek mythology — Clotho the spinner who weaves the threads of each person’s life, Lachesis, the allotter, and Atropos, the inevitable (death), and the play is about the desire to escape one’s destiny. The presence of this third character adds a dimension taking the work beyond Orchard’s concept.


A large video monitor is mounted on each of the four walls of the space, showing images of Orchard’s work that are especially pertinent or inspirational, and some of these images have been recreated as animations. Indeed, the play resembles a drawing in space, as the performance space is a rectangle that represents pictorial space (the audience is seated on all four sides), and the movements of the performers can be seen as pictorial animation.


The play has no central narrative, but rather an emerging theme, that of trying to launch oneself into a world beyond the confines of one’s existence in the manner of the existentialists. The dark humour of the script and action is typical of absurdist theatre, and fate is omnipresent.


Bennett, Sweeney and Hollingsworth give excellent performances. The staging is simple but highly effective, with an excellent musical score and lighting.


Audience members do not need to be familiar with Orchard’s art to appreciate this outstanding and highly original play. Two of Them stands on its own as a fine work.


Chris Reid


When: 20 Feb to 9 Mar

Where: MOD (University of South Australia)



NB: Readers interested in Christopher Orchard's art can see his current exhibition at BMG Art, 156 Halifax Street until 16 Mar 2024